No sex, no scandal

For the last six weeks, John Kerry’s presidential campaign has been savaged — to devastating effect — by a slimy group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who were given $7 million in funding, mostly by Texas oilmen.

They have run commercials questioning the candidate’s heroic record in Vietnam. Their charges have been demonstrated to be essentially false, their motivations suspect, and some of the so-called veterans have changed their stories several times.

Yet few in the mainstream media denounced them for what they are, or pointed out the bottom line: Kerry went to war, was wounded, and won a Bronze Star. George Bush avoided the draft by using connections to get into the National Guard; Dick Cheney ducked any kind of service whatsoever.

And then last week, Dan Rather and CBS turned up a real story shedding new light on the behavior of one of the candidates during the long-ago Vietnam War, something that should have made headlines all over the country.

Ben Barnes, a former lieutenant governor of Texas, confessed that he had helped young George W. get into the Air National Guard to avoid being drafted. He helped Bush move ahead of hundreds of others on a waiting list, because his father was a congressman and, as Barnes now admits, he was a “young, ambitious politician,” who thought it was “important to make friends.”

But CBS had a lot more than that. Memos from his squadron commander that have never previously been published reveal that the shrub refused to take a physical examination “as ordered,” and that his commander, who has since died, recommended he be suspended from flight status.

The commander, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, also indicated he was being pressured to “sugarcoat” Bush’s evaluation, and that Bush II wanted to get out of coming to drill for six months to work on a political campaign in Alabama.

Another story, which was barely noticed, appeared in the Boston Globe. Seems Bush also promised to join a Boston unit of the National Guard when he went off to Harvard Business School, but somehow never managed to find one.

How did the nation’s media — other than CBS — play all that? Mostly down; often not even on Page 1. They gave more space the next day to the White House’s angry rebuttals. Interestingly, the spin doctors didn’t spend much time denying the story; they just said the documents were forged, and claimed that a kind of script in them wasn’t available on IBM typewriters in 1972.

Since then, it’s been shown that some of the typewriters did have the superscript, that one of the nation’s top handwriting analysts independently verified their authenticity, and that people who knew Killian at the time say the memos reflect how he felt about the man who is now our selected leader.

This ought to be a major, devastating scandal. Yet the media seem afraid of making much of it. What is going on here?

Ben Bagdikian, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and dean at the University of California at Berkley, gets it right in the preface to a newly reworked version of his classic book, The New Media Monopoly.

“In the years since 1980, the political spectrum of the United States has shifted radically to the far right. What was once the center has been pushed to the left, and what was the far right is now the center. What was considered the eccentric right wing of American politics is now considered the normal conservative outlook. What was the left is now at the far edge … treated in the news media as a sometimes amusing oddity.”

What’s more, our nation’s major news media are now almost entirely owned by huge corporate conglomerates, which cannot help but affect their outlook on reality. News media executives act as though their principal fear in life will be that someone, sometime, will accuse them of being liberal.

That may help explain why we have the campaign coverage we do today. There is, of course, one thing that could send the media after Bush. Not his assault on the Constitution, or his bogging us down in a bloody war against a faceless enemy in Iraq, a war we were lied into and cannot possibly win.

No. But if he is caught on top of ol’ Karen Hughes, or doing the tumbleweed with the seriously loopy Condoleezza Rice, who once actually referred to him as her “husband,” he’ll be in trouble.

Sex, after all, is what our media are most comfortable with. The Detroit Free Press may largely ignore the fact that Detroit now has 16 percent unemployment and Kwame the hip-hop mayor has done, as far as I can see, nothing to improve life in the neighborhoods. Yet last Saturday, it was worth a long story to tell us that a circuit court judge had ruled Detroit’s mayor will have to answer questions about whether or not he is screwing his chief of staff, Christine Beatty.

On the same day, The New York Times informed us that in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new law banning sex with the dead. I am glad that at least one state legislature is addressing the real problems its citizens face. So be fairly warned; if you have any impulse to disinter Ronald Reagan’s corpse and have a go at it, you are now looking at an eight-year felony.

Hour Detroit editor resigns: Ric Bohy, who has been editor of Hour Detroit Magazine and editorial director for Hour Media since soon after it was founded in 1996, resigned Monday. Bohy‘s departure is noteworthy because he was one of the few journalists in the state who was equally adept at news and features. Hour was given little chance for survival when it started; he built a staff and the magazine into a considerable presence in Detroit journalism; this year, it was honored as the second-best city/regional magazine of its size in the country.

Bohy, a longtime Detroit News staffer and a former editor for the now-defunct Detroit Monthly magazine, indicated he had some disagreements with publisher John Balardo and Hour Media CEO Stefan Wanczyk, but said his leaving was amiable. "We’ve agreed to disagree on a number of issues and will part wishing each other well." His will be hard shoes to fill.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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